The inaugural Bendigo Homebrew Competition and Tasting was held in May this year at the small Basement Bar and was used to gauge the current level of interest in home brewing and craft beer around Bendigo. The event was so successful, with a positive local response and welcome media exposure, that plans for a repeat competition were soon put in place to capitalise on demand.
The second staging of this event occurred in early September and doubled the attendance of the first, showing that interest in craft beer and brewing around Bendigo is growing rapidly.
This time the event was held at Bendigo’s Goldmines Hotel, which boasts one of the best beer garden spaces in Victoria. The pleasant location was further enhanced by idyllic spring weather on a recent Saturday afternoon. The competition attracted 23 entries from amateur brewers in an open event designed to promote the merits of craft beer to the locals.
Australian Brews News was invited along to judge the competition entries alongside James Smith of The Crafty Pint and Ian Morgan, senior brewer at Holgate Brewhouse. The winner of the Judges Award would receive a Holgate experience with a night at the brewery’s hotel in Woodend, beer tastings and a tour of the working brewery.
Also on offer was a People’s Choice Award, voted by everyone who attended the event, and a Most “Out There” Award sponsored by regional Victoria beer enthusiast and critic, Warren Partington, aka “Vic Beer O’Clock”.
The opportunity to taste over twenty brews drew a crowd of around 120 people across a wide range of ages and inclinations towards beer. Also available over the bar to those attending the event was a fresh keg of Holgate’s highly regarded ESB, as well as bottled beers from Holgate, Bridge Road Brewers and 2 Brothers Brewery.
This competition and tasting was the latest endeavour of the team from Bendigo Beer, which consists of two locals who have a passion to bring better beer to the pubs and bars of their historic town in central Victoria. Despite being the fourth most populous city in the state and possessing a robust tourism and wine industry, Bendigo has seemingly been left behind on the craft beer train that is roaring through Victoria.
Earlier this year Bendigo local, home brewer and craft beer lover Justin McPhail joined with PR savvy mat Trev Birks to tackle the lack of access to craft beer and the associated social culture of tastings and beer themed events in their home town. Justin had been following the booming beer culture in Melbourne for some time, regularly visiting the city to join the urban beer lovers in tasting and discussing the latest beer releases from Australia’s microbreweries.
He decided that the lack of access to beers other than the products from the Fosters and Lion Nathan portfolios was unacceptable.
Justin wrote on his blog, “Why can’t Bendigo, the largest regional hub outside of Melbourne and Geelong, enjoy a good beer culture that doesn’t rely on cheap beer and nightclubs to ensure a good time? Bendigo is a fairly trendy little town, lots of boutique, interesting places to go, and lots of good people in the town who love wine and good food. My thought was that if they like the finer things in life, why can’t they enjoy a good small batch brewed local beer? My answer? They can. I just have to bring it to them.”
Justin and Trev started by taking their crusade direct to the pub and bar owners, as well as calling on the country’s craft brewers to start suppling their thirsty town. They found like minded supporters in Basement Bar owner, Scott Seymour, and Tim Baxter from The Dispensary Enoteca.
Together with Scott, Justin and Trev created the first homebrew competition to kick start the Bendigo Beer movement. Scott then lead the way to organise a bigger event at Goldmines, yet continuing the relaxed and grassroots approach to expose more locals to alternative beers. In a town famous for its Community Bank, the Bendigo Beer boys know well the power of harnessing the community to generate support for change.
“It’s a chance for everyone to just have fun, try some different beers and to get around and chat” said Birks of underlying aim for their Bendigo Beer initiatives.
The turnout for this September event once again exceeded the Bendigo Beer team’s expectations. The eager crowd worked their way through the diverse flavours of 23 different beers. Supported by the brewers who had entered the competition, Trev, Justin and Scott engaged as many punters as they could, building more ammunition to take back to any local bar owners that are holding back from supplying craft beer.
Trev offered any reluctant drinkers a taste of Beechworth Pale Ale and happily reported back the common responses of “that’s not beer… it tastes good!”
“People keep asking me how they sign up to this club”, noted an elated Birks, “We’re not a club, there’s nothing to sign up to, but it’s awesome!”
After more than three hours of tasting, chatting and mingling, the voting papers were collected from all present and the results tallied. Trev Birks took the microphone and announced the winners.
Overall the judges were inspired by the enteries. The quailty was mixed and some faults far too evident, but the effort, knowledge, character and innovation shown by the homebrewers provided an enjoyable tasting experience.
The Judges Award for best beer went to Pete Martin for his Vienna Lager, a standout for all three judges. A delighted Ian Morgan, who brews a Vienna Lager called “Big Reg” at Holgate Brewhouse, noted that Martin’s effort was “more true to style” than the Holgate product. “It was an excellent beer, clean fermentation with excellent balance between malt and hops.”
The significance of a lager winning over an ale was not lost on this young competition and emerging craft beer drinking region. Home brewing a lager is generally more difficult than producing an ale because it requires a much high level of care and temperature control during fermentation. Hence, the winning beer shows a maturity and skill in brewing that displays a readiness for the Bendigo region to embrace craft beer.
The winner of the people’s choice award was Sam Brennan for his ginger beer with chilli. The chilli was balanced well, providing an interesting flavour experience that won over the public. As his prize, Sam was awarded a bottle of the very limited Holgate “Beelzebub’s Jewels” Belgian style Quadrupel.
Justin McPhail also won a prize, scoring the most “out there” beer award for his fruit beer, a feijoa ale. “It wasn’t rigged” he promised, collecting a valuable stash of Victorian craft beers. Justin hopes to one day open his own microbrewery based in Bendigo. He recently upgraded from brewing with a kit to all-grain brewing and believes a small commercial brewery in sorely needed in the area.
The event was declared a success and many stayed on to soak up the social atmosphere and enjoy the remaining supply of craft beers from the bar.
What’s next for Bendigo Beer? “We’ve got a few ideas,” said Trev with a sly smile. “We’re going to do some beer garden tours around Bendigo. If pubs have some good beer available, we’ll help people discover their beer gardens”.
Alongside regular beer master classes held at The Dispensary Enoteca, Justin also noted “we want to get a bunch of local pub owners and managers on a bus, take them down to Melbourne and show them what’s happening with craft beer. We want to just build general awareness, try and get [bottled craft] beers in the fridge first.”
With summer fast approaching and the seed of interest now sprouting, the call is clear for brewers and bar owners to get onboard the train for better beer in Bendigo.
Follow Bendigo Beer on twitter @BendigoBeer